October 30, 2022
Херсон Is how Kherson is spelled in Ukrainian. It is the site of the latest bloody battle in Ukraine that is raging at this very moment. A few days ago, the Russians lost 480 soldiers and that number mounts daily. Estimates are that they have lost more than 70,000 men in the war to date. That is more than the US lost in ten years in Vietnam. But, the Russians don’t care. They are using World War II tactics in which they sustain heavy losses even to the bewilderment of their opposition who marvel how little respect the Russian military commanders show for their own. The dead are left behind and cremated, if possible. Too much bother to bring them back. "No man left behind" is not one of their slogans.
Red dot is Kherson/Kameshani
The war in Ukraine, now in its ninth month, is wearing and is will be facing the harshness of a cold winter. We who live in our comfort and safety don’t want to think about what’s going on far away and just ignore the war, giving only an occasional fleeting thought about how terrible it is. LifeNets is providing essential aid in a few targeted areas of Ukraine where we have worked with trusted people. People are writing me saying that there will be no gas for heat and are looking to wood or electric heaters (provided the electric grid is working).
I’d like to tell tell you about my experience with people in Kherson going back to another refugee crisis in 1997 and bring you up to date with my discussions in Ukraine this week.
In 1997 we resettled 150 people from Tajikistan in Central Asia from Muslim persecution to Kameshani, a village about five miles from Kherson. In the Muslim world "persecution" is a euphemism for torture and death. It was at this time that I heard the world “Taliban” for the first time. It was not part of the news glossary until the Afghanistan war. The people we were helping were Christians whose roots were in Ukraine going back to the days of Stalin a few generations back. They had settled in and made Tajikistan their home as part of Stalin's trying to homogenize the USSR. It was safe in the days of the USSR as the Communists provided equal opportunity oppression to both Muslims and Christians.
When the USSR fell apart, we tried to resettle these people to places like the Australia and Europe, but no luck. We finally found the “perfect” spot — Kherson, Ukraine, in the mouth of the Dnieper River as it empties into the Black Sea.
You can read about these earlier stories:
1. Our visit to Kherson/Kameshani in June 1997 (written by Maurice Frohn)
2. The Crisis in Tajikistan resulting in relocation to Kherson/Kameshani
The congregation of 150 dwindled down to currently about 30 elderly people. Most everyone has gone somewhere else, some even to the United States. They live in a settlement called Kameshani about five miles from Kherson city center. Their pastor Franz Klassen refuses to leave them. He was their pastor in Tajikistan and was the very last one in the congregation to be evacuated back in 1997.
Kherson Program in Cincinnati
Bev and I were invited to a meeting of Cincinnati area pastors to listen to a presentation by a pastor from Kherson.
When the war started in February 2022, the Russians from Crimea attacked Kherson and occupied it until now. Russian soldiers took over churches as shelter. Out of 80 churches in their affiliation, the Russians destroyed 60 of them.
Valek and his wife Luba, who translated, gave a moving presentation of what they have gone through during the Russian occupation. We could feel their pain that they experienced. , but also, we were impressed with their courage in the face of uncertainly. It brought to mind the life of the apostles Paul and Peter and the sufferings that they went through. They still operate a training school for pastors in this environment. In the war zone, volunteers crossed enemy lines back and forth delivering food and other essentials. Bridges have been destroyed or mined.
Any male between 16 and 60 can be conscripted at any time. If you are a male walking about, you could be picked up and forcibly inducted into the military instantly. He knew of 500 pastors who are in the army and ministering to soldiers and continuing their Christian mission. Fourteen million people have already evacuated Ukraine. It was painful to hear them speak. They talked of depression, burnout and yet the need to model what Jesus Christ would do and how He would react. Some had quit the ministry understandably, but others wanted in as volunteers and were prepared to serve starting with absolutely nothing—no budgets, expense accounts and certainly no pay.
By the way, nations around Ukraine are not taking in any more refugees. They can only handle so many, so we have to resettle them with local people where it's safer. Also, the people with greater means got out first. Train tickets were free. Now, people have to pay. They are the poor who can't. And, winter is coming.
One of the US pastors at this luncheon asked, “What can we here in America learn from this invasion experience and how can we prepare our people for such an eventuality?”
The answer was: "We are wounded, that’s all we know. We can’t be objective. We need to be mature.” He continued to comment on how when he picks up the Bible it strikes him how much the Bible speaks of war, war, war....all the way to the very end of the Book.
My thought at this answer was that in our safe protected cocooned life we “ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.” We have no idea about how we would live with this for month after month. Would this turn us into animals, or would we live our faith and model Jesus Christ? Would we live Christ’s words of “love your enemies” and unjust treatment as Peter described in I Peter 4? They commented how quick emotional reactions are, but we need to make complex strategic solutions in a more thoughtful manner.
I was moved by how matter of fact they spoke about horrific things that they had just experienced. They shared their stories from the heart as they spoke of abuses and suffering with a mindset of patience.
Can you help? Here's how.... LifeNets Ukraine Emergency Fund
More photos of the October 24, 2022 Luncheon Presentation: